No. 18 men’s basketball dominates Lehigh

Three Cavaliers reach double figures in victory

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Nigel Johnson's eight assists helped lead the Cavaliers to victory Saturday.

Callie Collins | Cavalier Daily

After coming out on top in a defensive slugfest, the red-hot Virginia men’s basketball team took to the court at John Paul Jones Arena Saturday, looking to gain some offensive swagger back against Lehigh. The Cavaliers (8-0) put on a show for the home crowd, flashing big dunks and crafty assists as they cruised past the Mountain Hawks (4-4), 75-54.

Virginia once again put up a solid effort on both ends of the floor, turning big stops on defense into points on transition and moving the ball well. The Mountain Hawks turned over the ball an uncharacteristic 17 times against the suffocating Cavalier defense.

“Points off transition, whether it's offensive rebounds, turnovers or getting to the line, those are really important,” Virginia Coach Tony Bennett said. “Tonight, we capitalized early, especially as the game was sort of back and forth, those turnovers turned into quick buckets.” 

Virginia’s newfound aggressiveness on transition has come about with the addition of graduate guard Nigel Johnson. Johnson has not shied away from running the floor with his quickness and ball-handling skills. The graduate student finished with five points and a game-high eight assists, many coming on transition plays.

“I think [Johnson] showed his versatility, where he can score or pass, and he rebounded pretty well too,” Virginia sophomore guard Kyle Guy said. “So, when he can get in transition and make plays, that's when he is at his best."

While Johnson thrived as a facilitator Saturday, Guy shined in his usual game plan — making big shots. The sophomore led the team in scoring once again with 21 points, including making five-of-nine tries from beyond the arc. Perhaps most impressively, Guy played Saturday’s game after getting five stitches on his right hand to mend a cut he received in practice Friday.

Guy has established himself as a legitimate star on Bennett’s roster. Saturday, Lehigh became the latest team that couldn’t figure out how to slow him down.

"He has an unbelievably quick release, and he is able to turn and square his body in the air extremely well that compliments that release,” Lehigh Coach Brett Reed said. “As an opposing coach, when he has the ball and he is in that release, even if we do a pretty adequate job at challenging, it is a little bit difficult because there is a better chance than not that that ball is going to go through that basket.”

Though they weren’t very efficient on offense, the Mountain Hawks stayed in the game early with accurate three-point shooting, finishing with 10 made-threes on the day. Junior guard Lance Tejada led all players with 22 points and made five of nine tries from deep.

Despite making some big buckets, Lehigh could not keep pace with Virginia’s scoring, as Guy got some help from his senior captains. Senior forward Isaiah Wilkins chipped in 14 points and six rebounds, while senior guard Devon Hall added 11 points and five boards.

In the game’s closing minutes, the Cavaliers solidified their victory emphatically with three straight alley-oop dunks against Lehigh’s press. Sophomore forward Mamadi Diakite buried two of the dunks, while freshman forward Jay Huff drew an and-one on his own, leaving the crowd at JPJ in awe.

Thus far in the season, the Cavaliers have executed at a high level on both ends of the floor, looking like a nationally-competitive team with their scorching start. However, Virginia will face its biggest challenge of the season thus far against No. 19 West Virginia on the road Tuesday. The Cavaliers will look to avenge last season’s home loss to the Mountaineers, when their trademark ‘Press Virginia’ defense gave the Cavaliers fits late in the game.

“They're tough, they're good, I know they put a lot of pressure on you so it'll be another test,” Bennett said.

Bennett and the Cavaliers will look to take the offensive momentum they built against Lehigh and their always-stringent defense. Tip-off is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the WVU Coliseum in Morgantown, W.Va.

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